The Company They Kept, Edited by Robert Silvers & Barbara Epstein

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The Independent Culture

"A memoir of a talented friend risks sentimentality," warns Robert Silvers, (editor of The New York Review of Books who edited w ith its co-founder, Barbara Epstein, until her death in 2006) in his preface.

These 27 essays (culled from 900 issues) by Oppenheimer on Einstein ("He said if he had to live if over again, he would be a plumber"), Anna Akhmatova on Modigliani, Saul Bellow on John Cheever, present memories wrapped in tender prose, yet are unflinching in their portrayal of these talented friends, failings and all.

Susan Sontag worships Paul Goodman's writing but admits to a personal dislike; Derek Walcott remembers Robert Lowell's stinging remark: "You use people". These vignettes steer away from hero worship to give us something more moving.